My Secret Life: David Bellamy, broadcaster and botanist, 78

Click to follow
The Independent Online

My parents were... Thomas Bellamy and Winifred May Bellamy.

The house/flat I grew up in... 124 St Dunstans Hill, Cheam. We were quite high up and could see London in the distance. In the war, we could actually see it with a telescope, and we watched it burn.

When I was a child I wanted to... be a ballet dancer. I tried to do it – I actually had some lessons – but my physique was quite large, so I knew I couldn't. But I wish I had.

If I could change one thing about myself... I would make my beard grow much better so I would look like Charles Darwin. I was the second person ever to be on the cover of Nature, a top scientific publication, and the person who beat me to it was Darwin. The picture was of me chasing a girl in a grass skirt with a lawnmower – and the caption was 'Science is fun'. Wow: I really should have retired at that point.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at... sleeping on moving vehicles.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... talking on telephones. I don't own a mobile phone at all, I just can't hack them.

What I see when I look in the mirror... A chameleon. Sometimes you think 'fantastic', sometimes you think 'I can't look that old!'.

I wish I'd never worn... a suit. I'm on my fourth, because my wife makes me buy another one every now and then.

I drive... a Hyundai. I once built a Lotus Super Seven, it was racing green. I wish I still had it, but we have to cut back on petrol.

My favourite item of clothing... Shorts. I like short shorts. I have super knees.

It's not fashionable but I like... my Speedos. All my children hate them, they try to hide them. They say I'm too old to wear them; I say just wait till you see me in them.

My house is... very ancient, and sits in the middle of a wood by a lake. We used to try to grow all our vegetables but we had so many rabbits we gave up! Now we eat the rabbits.

My secret crush is... Edith Piaf. I was brought up in a strict Baptist way and when I heard her sing I thought, 'There is another part of the world...'.

Movie heaven... Disney's Fantasia. I've probably watched it 200 times, it made me understand the science of music. I still think that the toadstools dancing round are phenomenal.

A book that changed me... A Girl of the Limberlost. It was all about a little girl growing up in America when all the trees started to be chopped down and the wonderful wetlands were drained. It made me who I am: I realised the world is a wonderful place but we do mess it up.

My real-life villains... Whoever made me an addict of Midsomer Murders! I really hated it at first – but it grows on you.

The last time I cried... When I heard they are planning to put a very big road through the Serengeti in Africa. It mustn't happen – if I've got to, I'll be down there on a picket line.

My five-year plan... To keep fit, because there's a lot still to be discovered, and I wanna be part of it. I want to write a book too, for the kids, to show them just how wonderful a place it is that we live, a planet that goes round and round at a phenomenal rate, and how lucky we are to live on it.

What's the point? The point of the whole multi-coloured tapestry of life is to enjoy it – and I still do.

My life in six words... Rosemary, Rufus, Henrietta, Brighid, Eoghain, Hannah.

A life in brief

David Bellamy was born in 1933. He began lecturing in botany at Durham University in 1960, becoming a professor in 1982. He has written over 45 books on botany, ecology and environmental issues and has presented around 400 television programmes. He was awarded an OBE in 1994. Bellamy and the National Trust are supporting Copella's Plant and Protect campaign ( He lives with his wife Rosemary in Bedburn in the Pennines